Planning your Summer Road Trip Begins NOW

Mapping your route and stocking up on gear in advance will pay off when you hit the road

In February’s cold, dark days, a summer road trip might be the farthest thing from your mind. Without the need to book a flight or coordinate other transportation, it’s easy to rely on spontaneity for a last-minute escape once the weather warms up. The beauty of an RV road trip is its structured freedom: you can do anything you want just as long as you are willing and able to drive.

But pushing off your planning until sunnier days could affect your vacation down the road. Investing a little time now will go a long way toward making the most out of your summer.

If plotting a course feels daunting, start by clustering destinations that will you give you something concrete to plan around. Depending on the number of days you expect to travel, you can add or remove stops along the way.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For example, a trip through three national parks in New Mexico and TexasWhite Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, and Guadalupe Mountains—could be knocked out in a long weekend. Tack on Big Bend National Park for an additional few days to account for the extra mileage and time to explore.

A classic way to plan a road trip is to follow one of America’s best-known vacation drives such as Route 66, the Pacific Coast Highway, or the Lewis and Clark Expedition Trail. Though they may seem cliché these drives are still famous for a reason: They capture the history of America. You can use social media to find modern attractions along these well-tread routes.

Search for geotags along the route for crowdsourced advice on what to visit while you pass through. Use hiking apps like All Trails to explore what nature recommendations people have outside of national park suggestions. Start following accounts of bloggers or local experts who post about the areas you’re visiting. To keep yourself from overcommitting, keep a list of these potential food stops, campgrounds, roadside attractions, and nature areas along the way to reference when you need options.

Whether you’re planning to follow a well-known path or keep a looser schedule, become familiar with your major waypoints by April. This will give you time to research lesser-known sights and dig for local suggestions. By the time you hit the road, you’ll have the confidence to make quick (but informed) decisions.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make reservations at national parks

While reserving a spot inside a national park isn’t the only way to camp near popular nature sites, it is well worth the foresight if you can book a few nights ahead of time.

Every park has its own schedule of openings, reservation requirements, and campsite availability so the best advice is to closely track a few parks for announcements. While some national parks save a portion of their campsite reservations to be released a week before booking, most park reservations open six months in advance.

Most National Parks reserve a few spots per campground as a first-come, first-serve option. They can be impossible to predict so do not rely on their availability if you are set on camping inside the park. Note that reservations often become available at 8 a.m. in the time zone of that park.

Permits for popular hikes and activities also become available at this time at Recreation.gov.

Timed entry reservations will still be required at a handful of popular parks during the peak summer months: Yosemite, Arches, Zion, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Haleakalā National Parks will all require some reservation to enter.

For complete details read 10 National Parks That Require Early Reservations for 2024 Visits

To the National Park Service’s credit, these required dates cluster around the most popular weeks and holidays and there are usually exceptions like entering a park before 5 a.m. that still allow for some flexibility if you can’t score a reservation in time.

Friday’s Fried Chicken, Shiner, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buy gear and supplies

A backpack, good walking shoes or hiking boots, wide-brimmed hat, and sun protection are all important regardless of how much outdoor activity you’re planning. It’s not just the outdoor gear to keep an eye out on—road trip essentials range from storage options to electronics to RV supplies.

Be sure to stock up on household and RV-related items: paper products, water filter, plastic bags, tissues, disinfecting wipes, and a fully stocked first aid kit.

That’s why I wrote this article: 35 Little Things to Remember to Pack for Your RV Road Trip

Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check your vehicle

Don’t forget about a checklist for your RV. A tire pressure gauge, jumper cables, and a roadside tool kit can all come in handy even if you’re renting an RV. And always keep a paper atlas on hand in case you’re out of cell service range.

Beyond the typical under-the-hood checks—engine oil, transmission fluid, hydraulic oil, coolant, and washer fluid—be sure to check your lightbulbs and brake reactivity, even in rentals. Spending hours on the road can decrease your focus and reaction time so ensure that the RV will be safe and comfortable. That’s why you should follow the 330 Rule.

The biggest investment to make in your pre-road trip vehicle is a new set of tires especially if you tend to only drive in the city. If you’re planning on driving or pulling a camper, van or RV and have been putting off upgrading your tires consider buying tires with a longer tread life or thicker tread for more diverse terrain.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are some helpful resources when it comes to tire safety:

Worth Pondering…

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

—Miyamoto Musashi

The Coast-to-Coast Road Trip is 120 Years Old

In 1903, a Vermont doctor bet $50 that he could cross America by car. It took him 63 days, $8,000, and 600 gallons of gas

The coast-to-coast road trip, that American essential, turns 120 this year. In 1903, Horatio Jackson and Sewall Crocker became the first people ever to drive a car from one side of the United States to the other.

Cars were an exciting novelty at the time and their numbers were exploding—from 8,000 in 1900 to 32,920 in 1903—but many still considered the horseless carriage a passing fad. There were few suitable roads let alone a nationwide road network. So theirs was an adventure like none before. And it all started with a $50 bet.

Horatio Nelson Jackson (1872–1955) was a medical doctor from a prominent Vermont family. One of his brothers was the mayor of Burlington. John Holmes Jackson won the 1917 mayoral election with a margin of just 10 votes, a record matched by Bernie Sanders in 1981. Another was the lieutenant governor of the state.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip in Adairsville, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No maps, no car, and very little driving experience

Jackson was an early automobile enthusiast. While in San Francisco (which he and his wife had reached by train), he accepted a bet that he could drive a car cross-country. He took the wager despite not owning a car, having very little driving experience, and not having any useful maps.

>> Related article: Epic Road Trips for this Summer and Beyond

For such practical matters, Jackson enlisted the help of Sewall K. Crocker, a driver and mechanic, and on his advice purchased a 1903 Winton. He named the two-cylinder, 20-horsepower touring car Vermont. The two left San Francisco on May 23 with their car stuffed with sleeping bags and blankets, rubber suits and coats, an ax and shovel, a Kodak camera and a telescope, a rifle and a shotgun, spare parts, and tools, and as many cans of gas and oil as they could stow.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The plan was to avoid the deserts of Nevada and Utah and the higher passes of the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies so the expedition swung north to follow the Oregon Trail in reverse. They were only 15 miles into the journey when the car blew a tire and they had to use the only spare they had brought.

North of Sacramento, a woman misdirected them for a total of 108 miles so her family could see their first automobile. When more tires blew out on the rocky road towards Oregon, they wound the rope around the wheels. Along the way, they wired the Winton Company for supplies to be sent ahead. Nevertheless, they occasionally had to walk or cycle long distances to find gas, oil, or spare parts.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip in Oatman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A bulldog named Bud

In Idaho, Jackson and Crocker acquired a bulldog named Bud as a traveling companion and fitted him with goggles to keep the dust from his eyes. And then the press caught on. Jackson, Crocker, and Bud became celebrities. Reporters and ever-larger crowds awaited the trio at every stop.

Despite more hardships—they lost their money and their way on the road to Cheyenne forcing them to go without food for 36 hours—things got easier once they crossed the Mississippi as there were more paved roads in the eastern half of the country.

>> Related article: No Matter Where You Are, These Road Trips Are Sure To Inspire

When they arrived in New York City on July 26, 63 days after leaving San Francisco, they had completed the first cross-country road trip in American history. And it only took them about $8,000 ($260,000 in today’s money), financed entirely by Jackson, and 800 gallons of gas. They never collected the $50 wager.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bud retired to Vermont with Jackson and his wife. Jackson went on to receive multiple medals for his active service in World War I and became a successful businessman in Vermont. His only other car-related feat of note is a traffic ticket for breaking the 6-mph speed limit in Burlington. In 1944, he donated his car to the Smithsonian Institution. It is on permanent display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. with the added likenesses of Jackson and Bud. Crocker died in 1913 at the young age of 30 but that is hardly a reason for leaving him out.

The cross-country adventures of Jackson and Crocker bring to mind a few other long-distance record-breakers such as Lewis and Clark or Phileas Fogg (the latter admittedly fictional). Their groundbreaking trip was the subject of a book (Horatio’s Trip) and a Ken Burns documentary of the same name with Tom Hanks voicing Horatio Jackson.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip on Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No household names

Despite the book and the documentary, the pair has never quite become household names on par with aviation pioneers such as Charles Lindbergh or Amelia Earhart. The cross-country adventurers who followed in their tire tracks and are even less remembered though they are on a map and table in the 1907 Blue Book brings their accomplishments back from oblivion for just a moment.

Jackson and Crocker hadn’t even arrived in New York when two other car expeditions left San Francisco for New York. E.T. (Tom) Fetch and M.C. Krarup would get there in 61 days, two days faster than the originals. Lester Whitman and Eugene Hammond took 73 days setting a slowness record.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip in Fort Stockton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A year later, Whitman got his revenge. With his new teammate Charles Carris, he shaved off almost a month of the previous record driving from San Francisco to New York in just under 33 days. In so doing, Whitman became the first person to drive coast to coast twice.

>> Related article: Texas Road Trips Sampler

There were no fewer than four coast-to-coast drives in 1905. Reversing the direction, the first three left from New York to arrive in Portland, Oregon. The first two were obviously in a race against each other both leaving on May 8 and both in eight-cylinder Oldsmobiles.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip with Forrest Gump © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three hurrays for Percy Megargel

But who won? The table says Dwight Huss and Milford Wigle completed the crossing in only 44 days versus 51 days for Percy Megargel and Barton Stanchfield—but it shows both teams arriving on June 21. It seems likely Megargel lost (arriving on June 28 instead of June 21), because he went straight back and tried again, this time with David Fassett. Their time was a disappointing 84 days. The pair returned to New York by car setting off from San Francisco but the result was even worse: 201 days. At least Megargel was the first person ever to drive coast-to-coast three times.

The year 1906 saw three coast-to-coast road trips. William Gehr and W.E. Canfield brought their wives with them—also a first. Whitman and Carris broke their speed record crossing the country in just over 15 days. Richard Little and D. Haggerty arriving in San Francisco 24 days and eight hours after leaving New York would have made headlines just two years earlier. But by that time, the novelty, if not the attraction, of coast-to-coast road trips had already started to wear off.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip in Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Final note on Horatio Nelson’s maiden trip

As the road transport paradigm shifts from fossil fuels to electric, there’s a whole bunch of early automotive records now ripe for a do-over including Horatio Jackson’s coast-to-coast road trip.

>> Related article: Absolutely Best Road Trips from Las Vegas

In 2022, Jack Smith and two friends did just that. They retraced Horatio’s route in a 1964 VW Bus that had been converted into an electric vehicle. It went well enough for them to immediately double back: “Once we reached New York City, we turned around and followed the 1913 version of the Lincoln Highway back to San Francisco,” Jack writes.

Worth Pondering…

Do you know why a vehicle’s WINDSHIELD is so large and the rear view mirror is so small? Because our PAST is not as important as our FUTURE! So, look ahead and move on. 

Everything You Need to Know to Plan a Safe (and Fun) RV Road Trip

Unexpected hurdles don’t have to spoil the fun—here’s what we have learned over the years about staying safe and comfortable on the road

If this is your first time planning an RV trip, make sure to start planning well in advance so you have time to wrinkle out any complications. There are numerous resources available to help with your RV itinerary as well as different tips and tricks to have a great RV trip.

Over the past few decades and more than a million miles, we’ve learned—sometimes the hard way—about the many things that can go wrong on a road trip and how to plan for them.

Here are some tips to stay safe and comfortable, no matter what the open road throws your way.

Do your dream but plan wisely © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set a budget

I put this first on the list because it will dictate your overall trip. Setting a budget will determine how far you can drive, your nightly budget for camping and activities. Campgrounds in national parks and state parks tend to be less expensive but often without the services of a private park.

If you drive a shorter distance, your fuel costs will be lower. Setting a budget is an important part of RV road trip planning.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack wisely

Being smart is essential for any road trip but it’s even more important when traveling in an RV. This is because you have limited space and you need to be able to make the most of it.

Here are a few tips for packing wisely for your RV road trip:

  • First, start by making a list of everything you need. This will help you get organized and ensure that you don’t forget anything important.
  • Prioritize the items on your list. You’ll need to decide what is essential and what would be nice to have if space is available.
  • Think about how you’ll use each item during your trip. This will help you determine what needs to be packed and what can be left at home.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack for safety

Unexpected delays and breakdowns are part of the game and if you plan for them they’re easier to deal with. Here are basic items to pack as well as some extra things that are helpful to have on hand.

Items to bring for your vehicle include:

  • Tool kit for basic roadside repairs including wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, shop towels, rags, duct tape, and Rhino tape
  • Extra windshield washer fluid, coolant, oil, and transmission fluid
  • Basic roadside breakdown kit with flares, a reflective vest, jumper cables, a heavy-duty tire pressure gauge, flashlights, and a pair of work gloves
  • Comprehensive and up-to-date paper maps of your intended route and destination
Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s what to bring for your safety and comfort:

  • Enough food and water to sustain you and your passenger(s) for at least several days
  • Protection from the elements including a raincoat, good walking shoes, insect repellent, wide-brimmed hat, winter toque, sunglasses, and sunscreen 
  • First aid kit including bandages, pressure dressings, antibiotic ointment, and a sting/bite kit 
  • Can opener, knife, and multi-tool
  • Phone charger and power bank
  • Bear spray for safely repelling curious bears or bad people. Note: Bear spray is very potent, so read about how to use it safely
Lesser Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prepare your RV

Before hitting the road, check your tire pressure, wiper blades, and lights and make sure your fluids are topped off.

St. Marys, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your route

There are a many things to consider when planning the dates for your RV road trip and where you will go. Are there timely events you want to attend? If so, you will want to plan your trip around that. If not, it is a great time to look at your destination bucket list. It is also important to consider the weather where you will be.

Whether you’re spontaneous about routes or a meticulous reservation maker, Rex Talks RVing can help you on just about every level. Keep in mind holidays and local events that can make driving through a city or finding a campground difficult. For example, driving through Houston at rush hour or traveling from Vegas to Los Angeles at the end of a holiday weekend can be frustrating and is usually avoidable. 

Don’t forget a paper atlas. There are many areas where a phone-based GPS doesn’t work and other times when you’ll need to find alternate routes. Plus, it’s fun to browse untraveled sections of a map to plot future adventures.

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get off-the-beaten path

One of the best things about an RV road trip is that you have the opportunity to explore places that are off the beaten path. This is a great way to really experience the culture and beauty of the area you’re visiting. Additionally, it’s a great way to avoid the crowds and really relax and enjoy your trip. 

Look out for RV-friendly routes and avoid low bridges and narrow roads as appropriate.

Rochester, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know what to do in a weather emergency

Anticipate the weather conditions you might encounter—including tornadoes, hurricanes, flash floods, wildfires, dust storms, blizzards, and extreme heat—and research how to get through each situation safely without panicking. This is when a weather radio is important.

Covered bridge, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avoid dangerous encounters

It’s easy enough to figure out what wild animals you might encounter like bears and take precautions for them. But also keep in mind unsavory people. If you do not feel safe where you are, then relocate. Trust your instincts.

Fort Stockton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling safely

To stay alert, get plenty of sleep each night, take regular breaks and walk around, have spicy snacks and caffeine drinks on hand, and don’t eat a big meal before driving. If you do need to pull over for a break, do so at a rest area.

Utah Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreate wisely as you travel

It’s easy to think you won’t get hurt on vacation but it does happen. While enjoying the sights outside of your vehicle don’t take a selfie with a buffalo, avoid swimming in Yellowstone, and look both ways before crossing Bourbon Street—among other things.

Fort Adams State Park, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional tips: 

  • Sign up for real-time, current-location alerts on your weather app or check Weather.gov for weather stations on the radio
  • Keep up your situational awareness as in lock your vehicles when you leave your camp site
  • Keep your fuel tank at least half full especially in remote areas where fuel stations are less frequent
  • Practice defensive driving
  • Stay alert for wildlife on the road especially at dawn or dusk and after dark and on secondary roads
  • Pull over or change lanes if there’s a line of traffic behind you; not only is it annoying but you’re creating a hazardous situation where people will likely try to pass you in dangerous places
  • Pay attention to the mile marker signs on the side of the road as well as the county so you can accurately identify your location for emergency responders or roadside assistance

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign

The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Cross-Country Road Trip

Plan a route from sea to shining sea—without breaking the bank

Road trips have always been part of America’s DNA and despite skyrocketing gas prices there’s still never been a better time to see just what those amber waves of grain are all about. For many remote work has left the door wide open for new methods (and longer timelines) for exploration.

Whether by motorhome, travel or fifth-wheel trailer, camper van, or whatever trusted stagecoach you’ve got sitting out in the driveway, pulling off a cross-country road trip is incredibly rewarding—but it does take planning. From trip planning to money-saving, here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Rawhide Western Town in Chandler, Arizona along I-10 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning the route: north, south, or a little of both

Arguably the most important part of planning a cross-country road trip is to decide how to get from coast to coast. You’ll hear people talk about the “north” route, I-90 from Seattle to Boston, or the “south” route, I-10 from Los Angeles to Jacksonville. I don’t like having to choose so my road trip route incorporates a little bit of both. Also, consider the season; I don’t recommend either I-90 or I-80 during winter.

Black Hills of South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most important thing is to design the road trip around what inspires you (more on this later). For me, that means the Grand Canyon, the Black Hills, the Smoky Mountains, Charleston and Savannah, and the Southwest which dictated that we drive the northern route and then pivot straight south before turning east again and then zig-zagging a few more times and taking the southern route to the Southwest.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Write down the following numbers:

  • How many days do you have for your road trip?
  • Approximately how many miles do you intend to cover?

Start by making a list in Google Maps of all the places you want to see. You may be surprised at how naturally a route forms. You also may be surprised at how little time it takes to get from one place to the next, especially in the East.

Related article: Life Is a Highway: Taking the Great American Road Trip

Charleston, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What are the most miles you’d be comfortable driving in one day? Start by considering how many hours you’d feel comfortable behind the wheel then convert that into miles.

How many days do you want to do zero driving? Consider days spent exploring towns or in national and state parks. Likely, you won’t want to drive every single day of your trip.

These numbers should give you some clarity on what your itinerary will look like.

Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sometimes following a pre-planned itinerary takes a lot of the guesswork out which many people prefer. Everyone’s tolerance for driving is different, too; you’ll need to gauge your threshold. Don’t plan to cross the country in six days if you can only handle four hours of driving at a time.

Amish Country in northwestern Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Create your itinerary

Now, start plotting days out so you can see them. You can use whatever works best for you. There are also road trip planning apps out there.

Once you have a basic itinerary drafted, run through it and see how it feels. Is it too rushed? Are you trying to cover too many miles? Do you think you could squeeze more stops in?

Kentucky Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make any tweaks you feel are necessary. Even though this will hopefully be a pretty solid plan my advice is to always think of it as a guide rather than something that needs to be followed 100 percent.

Here are a few more questions to ask yourself as you’re making alterations to your itinerary:

  • Does it feel balanced?
  • Do you have all your long drives at the beginning of the trip?
  • Will you feel exhausted when you reach your final destination or will you be ready to rock?
  • Do you have time in your schedule to be spontaneous?
  • What would happen if you don’t get home on the exact date that you planned?
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan ahead for national parks

Part of the adventure of a cross-country road trip is leaving room for improvisation. We don’t book RV parks and campgrounds until a day or two before our planned arrival which is great because we can be on our timetable. But this can become an issue around the national parks where campgrounds can often be booked months in advance.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As badly as you want to see Zion and Bryce Canyon, well… so does everyone else in America. It’s vitally important to plan and know each park’s entry restrictions. Consider springing for the $80 America the Beautiful National Park pass which provides access to all National Park Service sites as many times as you want in 12 months. In short, if you plan to go to more than three National Parks in one year, this is a good investment. If you plan to spend considerable time in one state or a region, look into those state or local passes too.

Related article: Epic Road Trips for this Summer and Beyond

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Design the road trip around what inspires you

Don’t miss out on great parks like Arches because you forgot to get reservations. If summer’s come to an end, you may get lucky—many parks, like Yosemite, do away with the reservation system after September 30. On the flip side, other parks like Glacier National Park or the Grand Canyon North Rim close their scenic drives in the colder months when snow is expected. It pays to do your research.

Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beat the crowds by going in the off-season—fall is an especially great time to visit—or opt for less-visited national parks that everyone seems to forget about. Get creative: America is full of gorgeous state parks, national forestsnational monumentshistoric parks, roadside attractions, and much more.

Gettysburg National National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set a road trip budget

Unless you’ve got a bottomless bank account (wouldn’t that be nice?!) you’ll probably want to set some sort of road trip budget. Now, this will vary from person to person. For some, it might be more or less a target to aim for but you’ve got flexibility. And for others, it’s a strict number that you’ll need to be very mindful of the entire trip. Whichever sounds like you, setting a budget is important. 

Truth BBQ in Brennan, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you can, skip traveling to popular places over holiday weekends and possibly the week before and after as prices will be inflated (plus, it’ll be extra crowded).

Road trip costs to consider include:

  • Fuel: This category is pretty straightforward
  • Accommodation: RV parks and campgrounds
  • Food: Restaurants AND groceries; also, the cost of snacks, coffee, alcohol, ice cream… ALL the good stuff
  • Entertainment: Fun things you plan to do along the way—hiking permits, entry fees, tours, rental equipment
  • Miscellaneous: The little expenses that don’t fit elsewhere—like propane, parking fees, tolls, medicine, paying for Wi-Fi, toiletries, souvenirs, gifts
  • Emergencies: We all hope to avoid unforeseen circumstances but, they do happen. This might include RV repairs, medical expenses, etc.
La Posta in Historic Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t get gouged on fuel prices. I secretly get excited when we save money on diesel fuel. One great app to save money on gas is Gas Buddy. Simply input your location and Gas Buddy shows you the cheapest gas around you. This app alone can save you hundreds of dollars when traveling across the US. Independent truck stops often offer diesel fuel at 50 to 60 cents per gallon cheaper than the majors like Pilot/Flying J and Loves.

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Planning the Best Summer Road Trip

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also, driving the speed limit will help you stretch your fuel—not to mention, it’s kind of the law. Speeding can lower your fuel economy by as much as 30 percent. When you get up to places like Montana where the speed limit is 80 mph you’ll see how quickly your tank drains.

Turning off toll roads is another money saver. It never adds that much extra time and you can score substantial savings. There are some cities where tolls are unavoidable but in others, these are only slightly faster and the tolls can add up quickly. Driving from New York to Washington, DC, for example, can cost as much as $35 in tolls—each way. In cities that are infamous for their tolls, like Chicago, do a little pre-planning so you find the best route for your trip and don’t get stuck paying unnecessary fees for tolls.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Have meals “on deck”. You can make some epic meals on the road but not every meal has to be fancy or overly planned out. Have some meals on hand that are just that—super simple to make.

We always have several “reserve meals” that don’t require much preparation for travel day.

Wild Turkey Distillery in Kentucky Bourbon Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dining out can be one of the biggest money sucks. It may seem like sacrilege to not be seeking out the best thing to eat in each town along your route but whittling your list down to the absolute can’t-miss spots will be lighter on your wallet. Texas BBQ joints are pretty high on my must-do list.

Eat out for lunch instead of dinner. If there’s a restaurant you just have to try, plan to go there for lunch instead of dinner. Restaurants often have items that are similar to their dinner menu with smaller portions sizes and smaller price tags. This is a great way to try a specific restaurant while still sticking to your budget.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Find free things to do

No matter where your road trip may take you there should be a ton of free (or inexpensive) activities to do. Simply Google “free things to do in (enter city name here)” and you should find enough to get you started.

Alternatively, you could replace “free” with “cheap” for some more options.

Galt Farmers Market in Central Caliroenia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free activities that to seek out include:

  • Hiking and walking trails
  • Farmers markets
  • Local parks
  • Beaches
  • Visitor centers
The Okefenokee in southern Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you hit the road…

Make sure everything on the RV and toad/tow vehicle is in good working order. This means checking the tire pressure, lights, oil, transmission fluid, and all the features before heading out each day. Don’t forget preventative maintenance.

Related article: Road Trip Planning for the First Time RVer

World’s Largest Roadrunner, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be prepared for things you didn’t prepare for

Even with the most detailed and extensive planning, things happen. But being open and flexible to mishaps is how to not let them ruin your day. If and when something goes wrong, remember to not panic. Trust that you’ve prepared yourself as best as possible and you’ll get back on track in no time.

Inconveniences are also exacerbated by exhaustion, so remember to take care of yourself on the road. Eat plenty of healthy food, drink water, and get a good night’s sleep before a long driving day. Leave the windows open for airflow, especially if you’re feeling sleepy. If you need to take a power nap, find a well-lit, safe area. This should not be a chore. Driving at your best is going to make the trip infinitely better.

Other than that, fire up your best road trip playlist, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Worth Pondering…

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

—George Harrison, Any Road

Why Revisit a Destination?

RVing off somewhere new is the ultimate adventure but it’s also rewarding to return to places you’ve been before

When you begin planning an RV trip, your thoughts likely leap to somewhere new. Many of us want to experience the thrill of adventure when we’re traveling the U.S. and Canada and discovering new locations and experiences.

I read an article recently where the writer said she would never visit the same place more than once. That there were so many new places to see, how could you justify a return visit?

Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It got me thinking about the locations I’ve been back to—whether that’s once like the Smoky Mountains and the Black Hills or repeatedly like Tucson and the Rio Grande Valley. And I realized that my favorite trips had been the return visits. I love to discover new places too but often the second-time trips have been more relaxed, more spontaneous, and more enjoyable.

And who says you need a change of destination to see something new? Even if you live in a city for years you’ll never have seen everything. Going back to a place lets you dig a bit deeper and uncover another layer of the place.

The Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While RVing somewhere new may be the ultimate adventure, it’s also rewarding to return to places you’ve been before. It may be to relive a special life moment or watch your favorite sport change through the seasons; either way, fire up your wanderlust a second time and discover why many destinations warrant a repeat visit.

Related: 10 Amazing Places to RV in July 2022

Let’s take a look at a few reasons why revisiting a favorite destination may be a great idea.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feels like returning home

Returning to a destination you’ve previously enjoyed can feel like returning home especially if you are returning to a favorite RV park or campground. You can still explore new things but you also have a familiar home base to return to. This also helps in getting over the initial legwork that most road trips entail. You already know where you’re going and how to get there so you can focus on activities to enjoy upon arrival.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since you’ve been here before, you’re familiar with the nuances of the location and can visit with added confidence. As you spend more time in a location you will feel less like a tourist. Whether it’s negotiating the winding streets of Santa Fe or wandering the Charleston Historic District, you’ll explore at ease armed with knowledge from your previous visit.

Historic Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You rarely see everything in a single visit

Unless a destination is very small or known for one specific attraction, chances are that you didn’t see everything there was to see during your previous visit. On an RV trip to San Antonio, you may have focused on the Alamo and the Riverwalk. By revisiting you could explore other historical and cultural attractions including the Missions National Historic Park, The Pearle District, King William neighborhood, Brackenridge Park, San Antonio Botanical Gardens, and the nearby Hill Country.

Related: 10 Tips for RV Travel: How to Make the Most of Your Road Trip

San Antonio Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can experience different seasons

The same location can feel like a different place with a change of season. Changing seasons will mean you concentrate on different areas and aspects of a place. Even a change of weather can do the same—you can spend a sunny day exploring local parks and other green spaces or a rainy day of museums and other indoor attractions. Many cities are transformed for special events like festivals or fairs at certain times of the year too. A visit to Roswell during the annual UFO Festival (first weekend in July), Tombstone during Helldorado Days (October 21-21, 2022), or Fiesta San Antonio (April 20-30, 2023) would be completely different from being there at any other time of the year.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Places change

Even if you saw most everything you planned to see on your previous visit, changes occur over time. Now, may be the time to revisit and see what is new. This could mean new or upgraded attractions, restaurants, and even RV parks.

Also, consider the time of the year. Visiting Phoenix in the middle of a scorching summer and visiting it in the winter are going to be very different experiences. Not every city or destination will vary this much, but many of them will.

Related: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: The Old West

Papago Park, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just like we do

Chances are, your interests have changed as well. You’ve learned new things and had experiences that will change the lens through which you view a given destination. This means that when you return years later you could end up enjoying a vastly different experience than you did at your original stop.

Enchanted Rock, Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why not?

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t strike off a destination simply because you’ve ‘been there, done that’. You never know what you’ll discover during a second or even third visit. And for snowbirds and full-time RVers, there are only so many places you can visit before you need to start considering a return trip.

Estero Llano Grande State Park, Rio Grande Valley, Texas

Numerous reasons can make revisiting a destination worthwhile, but do you need one? It’s your RV trip, so go where you want to go and do what you want to do.

In these social media-driven times, there’s pressure to view RV trips and other experiences as a bucket list to be checked off. If that’s what you want to do then go for it, but remember that the purpose of an RV trip or a vacation is to experience the things you want to experience—on your own terms.

Read Next: Road Trip Inspiration

Worth Pondering…

Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.

—Margaret Lee Runbeck

10 Tips for RV Travel: How to Make the Most of Your Road Trip

Nothing screams summer more than a good ole’ road trip and RV travel is perfect for summer travel. Here are few tips to make your road trip as smooth as possible.

Road trips are a quintessential form of modern travel giving people the freedom to choose their direction and schedule and take in some beautiful sights on the way. 

RVing is a marvelous way to experience the freedom and flexibility of travel. RV road trips are sure not to disappoint—from traveling across America or heading north to Canada.

Driving a motorhome on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pre-Requisite of Traveling

Traveling in an RV is a great potential way to see the country while still having all the comforts of home. However, it’s essential to be prepared before hitting the open road.

Choose the right RV. Not all RVs are created equal. Make sure to pick one that’s the right size for the underlying needs and that has all the features you require.

Get insurance. Just like with a car, one needs insurance for the RV. That will protect you and your passengers in case of any damage or accidents.

Related Article: Top 10 RV Travel Tips of All Time

Be Patient and enjoy the process.

Driving a motorhome on US Highway 89 south of Page, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best tips for RV travel

These 10 tips will help make the road trip as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. So, whether you’re a first-time RV traveler or a seasoned pro, be sure to check out these tips.

Driving a motorhome on Newfound Gap Road, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #1: Plan, plan, and plan

While I do admit that spontaneous road trips can be as much fun as the ones you plan weeks or months in advance, some planning is required for even the most spur-of-the-moment trips. It’s always a good idea to at least have a sense of what direction you’re going and which major roads you’ll be taking in case something happens with your navigation. Several excellent online resources can help potential travelers plan the route, so check them out.

Utah’s Burr Trail is not suitable for most RVs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #2: Know the vehicle’s limitations

RVs are big and bulky making them a bit tricky to drive. That’s why it’s essential to know the vehicle’s limitations before hitting the open road. For example, the user will want to ensure that everyone is well aware of Row much weight the RV can safely carry. Users might also want to know the maximum speed limit of the vehicle and need to get familiarized with every one of the ins and outs of driving an RV before setting out on the trip.

This rest area west of Las Cruces (New Mexico) is a great stop to stretch your legs and snap a photo of the World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #3: Plan for rest stops

When driving an RV, it’s essential to plan for rest stops. That is especially true if traveling with children or pets. Ensure that the RV has plenty of food and water for the trip and schedule regular rest stops so that everyone can get a break from the road. It’s also important to plan your overnight stops and make reservations well in advance, especially in the busy summer travel season.

Related Article: Road Trip Planning for the First Time RVer

Be aware of overhanging branches before backing into a camping site; pictured above is Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #4: Be aware of your surroundings

When driving an RV, it’s essential to be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye out for other vehicles, low-hanging branches, and tight curves. It’s also important to be mindful of the RV’s size to avoid driving into a tight space or hitting something with the vehicle.

Stay organized with a place for everything © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #5: Stay organized

One of the biggest challenges of RV travel is staying organized. There’s a lot of stuff to keep track of when on the road and it is pretty easy to lose track of things. That’s why it’s crucial to stay organized from the trip’s start. That means packing everything in an easy-to-access place.

Stopping at a roadside attraction on US Highway 191 in Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #6: Don’t be afraid to make some stops

As eager as you might be to reach your destination, the random stops you make along the way are what will make your trip truly memorable. Visiting local businesses will give you a truer sense of the area you’re traveling in and could point you in some directions you didn’t know about before. Not to mention that getting out of the RV to stretch your legs is essential to ensuring everyone’s comfort the entire way.

Camping at Colorado River RV Park at Columbus, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #7: Know the camping basics

If one is not familiar with camping basics, now is the time to learn. Camping can be fun, but it’s important to know what travelers are doing before hitting the open road. That ultimately means knowing how to set up the RV on a camping site and the correct way to hook up the utilities (electric, water, and sewer). It’s also essential to learn the first aid basics to deal with any emergencies that may arise.

Camping in bad weather at Capital City RV Park in Montgomery, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #8: Be prepared for bad weather

No matter the time of year you’re traveling, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for bad weather. That means packing a few extra clothes and some camping gear that can help travelers stay warm and dry in case of a storm.

Related Article: 30 RV Hacks and Tips for a Successful Road Trip

All set up in a camping site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #9: Be aware of the fuel budget

RVs require a lot of fuel, so it’s essential to be aware of the designated fuel budget before going on the trip. That means knowing how many miles the RV can travel on a tank of fuel and being prepared for a higher cost in some areas (expect to pay more per gallon in California, for instance).

Having fun may mean enjoying the sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

● Tip #10: Have fun!

The best thing about RV travel is that it’s all about having fun! So make sure to relax and enjoy the trip. That means taking time to explore the areas travelers are visiting and spending time with friends and family. Do not forget to capture plenty of moments in the photos to look back on the trip and remember all the good times one had.

Having fun may mean shopping at the local farmers’ market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other key guidelines

Here are some of my top-notch tips for a successful trip:

  • Create a packing list and stick to it
  • Check for traffic updates and plan the route accordingly
  • Find a storage location for all of the belongings
  • Stay safe on the road by following the rules of the road
  • Enjoy the journey and take in the sights and sounds of the open road
Walking the trails at Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Final stance

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of RV travel, it’s time to start planning the trip. The initial step is to decide on a destination. Do some research and find destinations that interest everyone. Once travelers have a few ideas, start putting planning the route and put together an itinerary. That will help ensure that one covers all the bases during the trip.

Unexpected fun adventure © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once the itinerary is in place, it’s time to start packing. Pack everything adventurers will need including clothes, RV supplies and camping gear, and food and drinks. And don’t forget to bring the camera so everybody can capture all the memories of the trip.

Related Article: How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in your RV?

Welcome Centers are a great source of information about the local area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, stock up on fuel and supplies before hitting the open road. That will help ensure that you have everything needed for a fun and successful trip.

Follow these tips to make the most of the road trip.

Worth Pondering…

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.

— Dwight D. Eisenhower

30 Tips for Spring Break Road Trips

A road trip guide

So, you’re planning a road trip for spring break. You’ve got so many options when it comes to where you’ll go and what you’ll do along the way.

Road trips are fun because they can be something that is planned for a while or just planned last minute. You can kind of just have a loose plan and still have a great time.

Additionally, road trips are a great way to meet all kinds of new people. Whether you’re just road tripping to visit friends or relatives or your whole trip is just a big circle, here are 30 tips for spring break road trips.

RV rental at Wahweap Campground in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Rent an RV

Get an RV! If you can fit get into your budget, getting an RV makes a road trip oh such a simple thing. No bathroom stops, a full kitchen, even a place to sleep. An RV can combine several expenses into one. It’s a fun way to travel.

2. Or a rental car

Think about a rental car if an RV isn’t in your budget. Mileage is unlimited and you won’t have to worry about maintenance before during or after your trip.

Wild burros roam the hills along Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Plan your route ahead of time

Plan your route before you leave. Download a map of the area you’ll be traveling, so you can still get directions without a wireless signal.

4. Clean the RV/car before you go

Clean your vehicle before you leave. Start your trip off with a nice clean car or recreational vehicle, all organized for the fun times ahead.

Related: Get Your Rig Ready for Spring Camping

Blue Bell ice cream anyone? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Pack the car the night before

If traveling by car, pack the car the night before. Put the things you will need first into the car last. That way they’re easily accessible when you need them. Things like snacks, water, blankets, and pillows should all be in inside the car with you rather than in the truck.

6. Pillows and blankets

Bring pillows and blankets. Road trips, whether in a car or RV, need blankets and pillows. Snuggle up put on your headphones and listen to some jams when it’s not your turn to drive.

7. Fuel up the day before

Fill up with gas (or diesel) the day before you plan to leave. Having everything ready before you leave makes the start of the trip seamless.

Kalaches are great for snacking and, oh so delicious © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Road Trip snacks

Road Trip snacks. Get your favorite snacks. Also grab high protein snacks to keep you going. Relying on fuel stop snacks are expensive and can limit your options.

9. Paper towels and hand wipes

Paper towels and hand wipes for those snacks. I despise being sticky. I need to rinse or have wipes for my hands.

Road trip playlist © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Make a road trip playlist

Music is a must for road trips. Downloading your playlist will make it accessible when you travel out of your cell phone’s coverage area. For the ultimate road trip play list, click here.

Related: Cleaning Your RV Exterior

11. Hoodies, sweaters, and sneakers

Being comfy in the RV or car (and with snacks) is a must. Hoodies, sweaters, and sneakers give me the ability to cool off or warm up a bit when everyone else in the vehicle feels fine.

Hiking in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Hiking boots

I like to be comfortable and prepared. A road trip may lead me to explore rough terrain. I believe every road trip should include at least one nature adventure. The more the better though.

Springtime in the Skagit Valley, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Bring drinking water

Be sure to bring water bottles and at least a gallon jug per person. You may need to wash your hands or drink it if you end up stuck somewhere for an extended period.

14. Top off your fluids

If bringing your own vehicle, check the fluid levels a couple of days before you go. Coolant, oil, and windshield wiper fluid should be topped off. Be sure you won’t need an oil change in the midst of your trip. If so, get that done before you leave too.

Not a good way to treat your tires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Check your tire pressure

When you fill your tank the day before, check your tire pressure too.

16. Bring cash

Stop at your bank and pick up some cash. You may not wish to charge everything. You may also need cash for tipping or for buying things in smaller towns. Always carry cash as a backup.

Spring along the Penal Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Tool kit

Carry a basic tool kit and stow on the curb side if traveling by RV. Include the following basic tools: High visibility cones, reflectors and/or vest, wheel chocks, tire pressure gauge, assorted wrenches and screwdrivers, pliers, hammer, duct/gorilla tape, work gloves. You should also keep jumper cables and extra fluids (windshield washer, oil, and coolant). If you’re driving in winter you should also keep an ice scraper, shovel, and traction aid (cat litter or sand).

Related: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Spring Road Trip

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Consider AAA

You can’t go wrong with an AAA membership. You are covered anywhere in the US and Canada, even if you aren’t on a road trip. In addition to roadside assistance, they offer road maps and trip-planning services.

19. First Aid Kit

Your first aid kit should include: Bandages (different sizes), sterile gauze (different sizes), rolled bandages, triangular bandage, cleansing wipes, tape, safety pins, tweezers, scissors, skin rash cream, anti-itch cream, antiseptic cream, sunburn cream, painkillers, antihistamine, ice packs, emergency blanket, disposable sterile gloves, and first aid manual. You should also have any prescription medications on hand. 

Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Flashlights

A flashlight is essential to help you get around in the dark. It can also be used as a signal. Make sure you keep at least one per person and have spare batteries. 

21. Cell Phone Charger

Cell phones are incredibly useful in emergency situations—you can communicate with loved ones, seek emergency help, figure out where you are, and get important information and updates. Always keep a phone charger in your RV emergency kit.

Consider the needs of your pets © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Pet Emergency Kit

If you have pets, you shouldn’t forget to include them in your emergency kit: Pet food, medications, toys, blanket, collapsible food/water bowls, cat litter and pan (if you have a cat), leash, collar/harness, and copy of your pet’s vaccination and medical records.

The World’s Largest Roadrunner is located on I-10 at Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Break up driving with roadside attractions

Break up the driving with numerous stops along the way. All manner of strange and interesting roadside attractions are found across the country. The highways are dotted with oddities that are as head-scratching as they are alluring: highly specific museums dedicated to whatever or gigantic versions of everyday items plunked into a field for no particular reason. For more on roadside attractions, click here.

Related: The 16 Best National Parks for Families to Explore this Spring

Travel with safety in mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Do the speed limit

Do the speed limit, especially in small towns. They are sticklers for obeying all traffic laws, especially their (sometimes seemingly unnecessarily) slow speed limits, just outside of town.

26. Avoid rush hour traffic

Avoid driving through cities during high traffic times. Highway gridlock and city traffic jams can suck the fun right out of a road trip. Plan ahead to avoid areas of heavy traffic during rush hour (roughly between 7:30 and 9:30 in the mornings and from 3:00 to 7:00 in the evenings).

Old Town Temecula (California) makes a great stop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

27. Don’t be afraid to make some stops

As eager as you might be to reach your destination, the random stops you make along the way are what will make your trip truly memorable. Visiting local businesses will give you a truer sense of the area you’re traveling in and could point you in some directions you didn’t know about before. Not to mention that getting out of the car (or RV) to stretch your legs is essential to ensuring everyone’s comfort the entire way.

28. Travel during daylight hours

It is best to travel during daylight hours. This is the best time to see everything around and it’s the safest time to drive too. A safe road trip is the ultimate goal.

El Morro National Monument is a short distance off I-40 in western New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

29. Consider sights off the main highway

Driving a bit off route for sightseeing can be worth it.  Dark sky communities, for example, are always worth a stop. These are places where you can see the Milky Way. These communities keep artificial light to a minimum, so you can better see the night’s sky.

Whitehall, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

30. Be flexible

Things don’t always go exactly as planned. The adventure is all in your attitude whether that’s a flat tire or a spontaneous invitation to join others at a campfire. Take (calculated) risks and enjoy the moment!

Worth Pondering…

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.

—Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1968)

The Ultimate Guide to Camping in the Southwest

A road trip through the American Southwest is of the most iconic road trips in the country. Here’s what you need to know!

Picture it: craggy, towering, red-rock formations in every direction. You’re hiking through narrow slot canyons, down verdant riverbeds, and along snow-capped mountains. You’re identifying a variety of cacti—from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion. Citrus-colored sunrises and sunsets define the days’ end. Inky night skies sparkling with stars are worth staying up through the night. The open road rambles on as far as the eye can see.

Driving an RV in Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is RVing in the American Southwest! It’s arguably wilder than anywhere else in the country and requires a bit more preparation and know-how than your average destination.

Feeling intimidated? Not to worry, you’re in the right place. Prepping starts right here, right now, so let’s dive in.

Apache Trail, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning your trip

Before we begin, be sure to prep your RV for travel; inspect your RV tires, belts, hoses, check for leaks, you name it. That’s done? Great—now we’re really ready.

Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step one: Find your route

Map out your destinations prior to hitting the road. In the Southwest, national parks and monuments, state parks, and other must-see places can sit hundreds of miles apart across arid landscapes with limited services in between.

Related: Where It All Began: My Love Affair with the Southwest

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step two: Find a camp

Once you’ve mapped out your route and your destinations, it’s time to plan where you’ll spend your nights. Make sure you know the maximum length of your RV, towed vehicle, and tow hitch combined. The last thing you want is to drive all day to a campsite that’s too short for your setup. In national parks, the average campsite length is 27 feet but you may find some that go up to 40. Be sure to make reservations especially in high seasons. Many campgrounds and RV parks are fully booked months in advance.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step three: Take it slow

If you’re new to RVing, know that traveling in an RV takes longer. Don’t plot out your trips like you would in your car. You’ll rarely exceed 60 mph so plan to drive fewer miles in a day. Give yourself plenty of time to make stops for fuel, food, and rest breaks. Start long driving days early so you’ll arrive at the campground in time to set up and enjoy a desert sunset while toasting marshmallows around the campfire. Arriving early allows time to enjoy your surroundings and helps you avoid disturbing other campers after dark.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water, lots of water

In the Southwest, this is rule number one: water for you, your pets, and your vehicle. The heat of the Southwest is unforgiving from giving you a dehydration headache to an overheated engine.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many national parks including Grand Canyon and Arches have free water-refilling stations at their visitor centers. Use them. In this dry climate, water is crucial.

Related: Five National Parks to Visit on the Ultimate Southwestern Desert Road Trip

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good rule of thumb for gauging water needs: One gallon of water per person per day. Fill up the fresh water tank in your RV before hitting the road. If you’re boondocking, double the water you think you’ll need.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pro tip: If your engine begins to overheat turn off the A/C especially on steep grades. If necessary find a safe place to pull over and inspect coolant levels, fans, and any possible obstructions. About a half-cup of clean, air-temperature water (not cold; that can crack a hot engine block) added to the coolant tank can help get you to an auto repair shop. This is not a fix, it’s a Band-Aid. Use extreme care when removing the cap as pressure and hot steam may be released.

Date palm groove, Coachella Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First aid, for you and your pets and your RV

Know that heat can mess with tire pressure, too. And any responsible RVer will want to travel with a first-aid kit, tool kit, fire extinguisher, coolant, and oil.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A weatherproof wardrobe

Then there’s your clothes closet. When packing for your Southwest trip, bring layers—the temperatures in the desert can vary 30 to 40 degrees in a single day.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cool, moisture-wicking clothes work well in the heat and then you can add layers at night or higher elevations. It’s not all low-lying desert in the Southwest (Arizona, for example, has an average elevation of 4,000 feet), and high-desert temperatures can plummet when the sun goes down. There can be snow flurries in Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon while the temperature in the Sonoran Desert reaches 75 to 80 degrees.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to see in the Southwest

You likely know the big national parks of the Southwest. Bucket-list destinations like Arches, Zion, Joshua Tree, and the Grand Canyon attract millions of visitors a year. Although these spots shouldn’t be overlooked, lesser-known parks like Capitol Reef or Petrified Forest might get you closer to the quiet solitude you desire.

Related: Stunningly Beautiful Places in the Southwest

Canyonlands National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t forget the many state parks, national monuments, and national forests, either! Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Dead Horse Point State Park, Escalante-Petrified Forest State Park, Coconino National Forest…the list goes on. These lesser-known locations offer less-crowded trails, incredible photo ops, and easier social distancing.

Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are over 60 NPS sites in the Southwest and the NPS’ annual America the Beautiful Pass ($80) pays for itself after visiting just a few. But if you plan to spend an abundance of time in one state, consider purchasing that state’s parks pass. Utah, for example, has more than 40 state parks making the $150 pass a good value if they’re serving as your main playground. And, yes, Utah’s state parks have just about all the iconic Southwest landscapes you can imagine.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to camp in the Southwest

If your heart is set on staying at one of the crown jewels of the Southwest, book early. Reservations for most national parks can be made six months prior to your arrival date and you’ll need every day of that especially if your RV exceeds 27 feet as larger campsites are limited. Find more campgrounds in national forests or on Army Corps of Engineers land. Other camping options include private RV parks and resorts.

Tombstone, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A huge advantage to RVing the Southwest is the availability of boondocking options. There are hundreds of millions of acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in this region and much of it is open for dispersed camping. Arizona alone is 38 percent federal land. Never mind Nevada, which is 85 percent. To find dispersed campsites, stop at the local BLM office ask at just about any local visitor center.

Related: 10 RV Parks in the Southwest that Snowbirds Love

Cedar Breaks National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pro tip: If you’re interested in boondocking in the Southwest consider solar panels to maximize your RV’s off-grid range. Put all that desert sunshine to good use! Solar is an investment upfront but allows you to boondock off-grid at length, saving money on campsites over time.

Zion National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seasonal considerations in the Southwest

The American Southwest ranges from the lowest point in the US to some of the highest peaks in the lower 48. This diversity creates a variety of weather conditions with the changing of seasons. Here’s a brief rundown on what to expect:

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer: Be prepared for temperatures well above 100 degrees in the low-lying desert regions of Southern California and Arizona. Expect temps into the 90s for most other regions of the Southwest.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter: Desert winters can be surprisingly chilly. As you reach higher elevations (Cedar Breaks National Monument, for example, sits at 10,000 feet), don’t be surprised to find snow and freezing temperatures. Be prepared with tools for snow removal and be ready to protect your RV pipes hoses from freezing.

Quail Gate State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall: Fall arrives late in the Southwest usually around early November. It brings with it stunning fall colors in places like Sedona, Flagstaff, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Carson National Forest.

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring: Traveling in the Southwest in the spring—think March and April—provides an opportunity to experience fields of wildflowers especially when it follows a wet winter. Check out places like Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Picacho Peak State Park for desert blooms.

Hovenweep National Monument, Utah/Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To boost your luck at nabbing a quiet campsite and a quiet everything else, travel in the shoulder seasons and avoid holidays and weekends when possible. That aside, any time of year will make for a memorable RV trip in the American Southwest. But it’s proper planning for that trip that will make it comfortable, too.

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your National Park Vacation

Transportation tips, camping advice, and other details you need to know

Summer is almost here and for many, that means it’s time to start planning that long-awaited road trip. With 237 million visitors in 2020, national parks are some of the most popular destinations as they provide a unique opportunity to connect with nature while being socially distanced at the same time. But there are nuances that can make or break your visit to a national park and they don’t reveal themselves until you’re actually there—which can be too late.

Shuttle stop at Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Zion National Park in Utah you may find yourself surrounded by crowds packing into shuttles; the vibe more theme park, not nature at its best. A visit during the offseason is a completely different experience. Arriving before peak-season shuttle service begins allows you to tour the park in your own vehicle. Camp on-site, roll out of bed early for hikes and experience the Zion you imagine—tranquil and sublime. 

Driving White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to get around national parks

There’s no way around it, you’ll absolutely need wheels to explore. National parks can cover vast swaths of land and some, like Yellowstone, stretch across multiple states.

When planning your park visit, take time to look at maps of your destination on the National Park Service website. These maps generally do a good job of letting you know how many miles separate different points and sometimes include time estimates for traveling between various park entrances.

Numerous days are needed to explore Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Give yourself multiple days to explore

As you study maps, you may notice that national parks have distinct areas. Sometimes they connect but sometimes they don’t. You may also be surprised to find you could lose most of a day moving between them.

Although Canyonlands is one park, it’s divided into four regions—three districts (Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze) plus the Green and Colorado Rivers that divide them up. It takes hours to travel from one district to another so most people focus on one area per visit.

It can take two hours to drive between Island in the Sky and the Needles; plan on six hours to the Maze. Most people only make it to Island in the Sky but experienced trail drivers with four-wheel drive vehicles may also want to experience the remote beauty of the Maze. If that’s you, plan for multiple days.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When driving to Pinnacles National Park, keep in mind that there is no road that connects the east and west entrances of the park. The shortest route from the east entrance to the west entrance (or from west to east) is through the town of King City on US 101, a drive of just under two hours.

But at Joshua Tree National Park in California, two deserts run into each other. It’s hard to tell the difference unless you know that the park’s namesake trees don’t grow in the Colorado Desert but their Seussian forms scatter the Mojave. Absent that indicator, though, the transition between the neighboring ecosystems is seamless as you drive along the main park road.

Joshua tree in the national park of the same name © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check vehicle restrictions if you’re driving an RV

Some national parks are suitable for RVs. Arches, White Sands, and Joshua Tree are easy to explore in an RV as the elevation gain is gentle and it’s easy to stop at overlooks and points of interest along the way. Other parks may NOT permit large vehicles in certain sections, especially roads with switchbacks and hairpin turns. If renting, you may want to reconsider the size of the RV as it may mean a must-see feature will have to come off your itinerary.

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana’s Glacier National Park is a great example. There, all vehicles (including any attached trailers) can only be up to 21 feet long and 10 feet tall which is smaller than most RVs. 

No matter what park you’re visiting, a small RV makes it easier to park at trailheads where designated spots for RVs are scarce or non-existent. Going small just might save you from having to skip the hike of your dreams.

Camping in Devils Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for staying inside national parks

Among the most convenient, immersive ways to see a national park is to camp in it. Doing so makes it easier to go on early morning hikes or do some stargazing. There is no shortage of camping locations in the National Park Service—there are over 130 park units to choose from.

The majority of the 500 campsites in Joshua Tree are available by reservation. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance and can be booked on recreation.gov. Reserving a site is highly recommended. The park offers five campgrounds including Black Rock (99 sites), Cottonwood (62 sites), Indian Cove (101 sites). Jumble Rocks (124 sites), and Ryan (31 sites). Be aware that not all campgrounds have water or a dump station.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles Campground is accessed only from the east side of the Park as there are no connecting roads between the two entrances of Pinnacles. The campground offers tent and group camping along with RV sites. Each tent and group site has a picnic table and fire ring. Most RV sites have electrical hookups and share community tables and barbecue pits. Water is located throughout the campground. Oak trees provide shade at many campsites. Coin-operated showers and a dump station are available.

Devils Garden Campground is the only campground at Arches National Park. You can reserve campsites for nights between March 1 and October 31. During this busy season, the campground is usually full every night. Between November and February, campsites are first-come, first-served. If you’re unable to snare a reservation at Devils Garden, you’ll need to look for an RV park in nearby Moab.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. The Lava Point Campground is an hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Terrace Road. There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons. Situated at 7,890 feet, Lava Point Campground is typically open May through September, as weather allows.

South Campground and Watchman Campground (for reservations call 877-444-6777 or visit recreation.gov) are near the south entrance at Springdale. This part of the park is desert. There are few trees to provide relief from the heat. Some campsites get shade for part of the day but many get no shade at all. Summer temperatures exceed 95 degrees; staying cool is a challenge. From mid-March through late November the campgrounds are full almost every night.

Potwisha Campground in Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accommodations outside a national park

While staying on-site is a unique experience, your road trip can still be amazing if you stay off-site. For best results, give yourself more time than you think you need. If you choose to stay in a charming town near your chosen park, you’ll need to account for travel time between the two plus the wait time to enter the park itself.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Always bring food 

Given the amount of time you’ll spend inside your chosen park, there’s no guarantee you’ll find something to eat. At some parks, you’ll be lucky to locate a protein bar at the visitor’s center while others have their own grocery stores. So whether you’re staying on-site or traveling by car, make sure to bring a packed cooler and extra food. If you’re touring in an RV, stock the fridge. Even if you find your park has provisions available, you probably won’t want to spend precious time standing in line at the register when you could be out there becoming one with nature.

Heavy snowfall in the Sierras closes Lassen Volcanic National Park during winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Timing your visit

Expectations go a long way toward a great first experience and timing is the key. Seasonal closures happen and you’ll also want to check for any permits or waiting lists for iconic hikes. About a week before your planned visit, scan the websites for the parks you’ll be touring for any park alerts. Even if you can’t time your trip for when your chosen park is fully open, its beauty will still shine through—just a glimpse is enough to know you’ve visited a special place on Earth.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

Best Preparations for an RV Road Trip

When preparing for an RV road trip there are important things to do before hitting the open road

When it comes to planning an affordable vacation or a weekend retreat, there’s nothing that compares to an RV road trip. Whether you’re an experienced camper, simple novice, or admitted first-timer, the basic preparations are similar. This process can be simplified by dividing your trip planning into these three phases:

  • Pre-trip (what is required prior to the trip?)
  • On the Road (what is needed while traveling?)
  • Final Destination (you’ve arrived—now what?)

Regardless of your destination, it all starts with the RV.

Visually check the RV exterior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pre-trip

Prior to setting out, RV owners need to perform some basic and routine maintenance to ensure their RV trip goes smoothly. Regardless if you’re an RV owner or renter, your RV requires a full safety inspection prior to travel.

Check the water and sewer systems for any potential issues © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first thing to do is a visual inspection of your RV exterior. Check to see if any damage was sustained over time, looking especially for evidence of water leaks. In particular, focus on the roof and caulking around windows, vents, air-conditioning unit, and doors. Look for cracks, holes, stains, separations, and leaks. Also, check for nests and evidence of chewing activity.

Check to ensure sewer hose and connection are in good working condition © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roll out the awning and inspect it for tears. Check the fluid levels and top them up as necessary. Inspect hoses for any tears or holes, and valves for leaks.

If you’re renting, your vehicle should be prepared by the rental company beforehand, but still, it never hurts to be aware of what general safety issues to look out for.

Rest areas and roadside attractions make great stops along your route © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once your RV is ready for travel, now comes the fun part: planning your trip! Three important things to consider when organizing an RV trip: Where are we going? How long are we going? What do we do once we get there?

By asking these questions, you’ll need to consider what clothes, gear, and supplies you’ll need to pack for your trip. Maybe it’s taking extra coats and hiking gear for the mountains? Perhaps packing some additional food and water for a lengthy stay? What activities are available where you’re staying and what else might they require?

Wall Drug makes a great stop when traveling across South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s ideal to map out your trip in advance and check for stopping points along the way, in case you need to take breaks for rest, fuel, food, etc. The more you plan ahead, the better you’re prepared for any potential issues or needs that may arise.

Driving Highway 12 Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the Road

Now your RV is packed and ready for travel. What concerns are there once you are out on the highway? Hopefully, you’ve tackled most potential concerns with some proper pre-trip logistics, but there are always things you simply can’t prepare for. Be aware of the height restriction of your RV. Watch out for clearance signs when approaching underpasses and tunnels.

Beware of height restrictions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Destination

Information on national and state parks, campsites, and weather conditions can go a long way for helping you to make the most of your adventure. By doing a little research in advance, you can prepare for most situations and elements.

Worth Pondering…

Make your choice, adventurous stranger.
Strike the bell and bide the danger.
Or wonder ’til it drives you mad,
What would have followed, if you had.

— C.S. Lewis, The Magicians Nephew